Yesterday, Sunday morning, I watched Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), the best commercial Hindi Film of last year, on Star Plus. An excellent Bollywood movie, despite it’s few flaws, some more relevant than others.
The Flying Sikh picBhaag Milkha Bhaag is a biographical film about the famed Indian sportsman Milkha Singh, nicknamed ‘The Flying Sikh’. The movie starts off with the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, where while leading the 250m race he slows down assuming that his pace could not be sustained, and looks behind at his fellow competitors, which causes him to lose the medal, as he comes in fourth. This scene is interjected with him turning around as a child, while on the run, and seeing his father being beheaded. Soon the Indian press is on heat, as to why he turned around, and his pictures are being burnt on the streets of India.

From here the movie tells us about Milkha Singh’s painful journey from escaping to India, from being murdered along with his family in Pakistan, during the partition of 1947, to him growing up with hoodlums, to his love affairs/flings, him joining the army and ultimately representing India at many international athletic events. The majority of the film is set throughout the 1950’s, and ends with him winning the gold medal in the ‘India-Pakistan Friendship Games’ of 1960, for which India’s, post independence, first Prime-minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, persuades Milkha Singh to set aside his memories of the Partition era, and commit to the race. When Singh wins the race, it is General Ayub Khan; Pakistan’s dictatorial President (second President) of West & East Pakistan, who became President through a coup (Pakistani coup d’état of 1958); who proudly gives Singh the title of ‘The Flying Sikh’.

The Flying Sikh Left: The Real Milkha Singh Right: Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh in the movie

The Flying Sikh
Left: The Real Milkha Singh
Right: Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh in the movie

As a film, it’s beautifully made by film director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. Considering the fact that am not a great fan of his past work; like Aks (2001) and Delhi-6 (2009); with the exception of Rang De Basanti (2006), which too was just an OK movie, though with a great concept, for me; I think Omprakash Mehra has brought out one the best films ever made in Bollywood till date. With beautiful cinematography, art décor, the setting of the 40’s and 50’s, though not to perfection, he has brought out a brilliant venture, that he’ll be remembered as one among the greatest film directors ever. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, is a movie that could have easily made it’s way to the ‘Best Foreign Language Picture’ category at the Oscars this year. India has submitted many a movies to the Oscars since 1957, but only three have made the cut, been nominated for, ‘Best Foreign Language Picture’; Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001); and out of the three, only Mother India and Lagaan, happen to be commercial ventures, while Salaam Bombay! is a pseudo-realistic art house venture; all made in the Hindi language.

Actor Farhan Akhtar, who too am not generally a great fan of, as an actor (he’s a good director), does a marvellous job as Milkha Singh. Akhtar doesn’t just portray Milkha Singh, he becomes Milkha Singh. Farhan Akhtar solely carries the whole film on his shoulders. His love interests in the movie have supporting roles; Sonam Kapoor as Biro, whom he falls in love with early on in the film; Australian actress Rebecca Breeds as Stella, the granddaughter of the Australian technical coach, with whom he has a one night stand and subsequent fling, during the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics; and ultimately Pakistani singer-cum-actress Meesha Shafi, as the Olympic swimmer for the Indian team, Perizaad, who finds herself being attracted to Milkha Singh, but he doesn’t reciprocate. What’s interesting is the main love interest in Milkha Singh’s life is omitted in the movie, his wife Nirmal Kaur. Milkha Singh met Nirmal Kaur, captain of the Indian women’s volleyball team, in Ceylon in 1955. The couple married in 1962. The film only goes up to 1960, thus it’s obvious his romance with his wife isn’t shown. But director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, could have shown the first time the two meet each other, hinting at the fact that this would be the future Mrs. Milkha Singh.

The Flying Sikh romances Down Under Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh and Rebecca Breeds as Stella, Singh's fling during the Melbourne Summer Olympics of 1956

The Flying Sikh romances Down Under
Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh and Rebecca Breeds as Stella, Singh’s fling during the Melbourne Summer Olympics of 1956

Divya Dutta, a superb actress I have great respect for as an artiste, does an excellent job, as Isri Kaur, Milkha Singh’s elder sister, who brings him up on her own, while being abused by her husband for paying more attention to her brother than him. Taking the Hitchcockian road, film director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, has a cameo in the movie, as a pilot, in a comical intervention scene.

The basis for the movie, on Milkha Singh’s life, happens to be from Singh’s autobiography, The Race of My Life, co-written along with his daughter Sonia Sanwalka. Am really keen on reading this book now. Singh sold the rights for the film for just one rupee, and inserted a clause stating that a share of the profits should be given to the ‘Milkha Singh Charitable Trust’, which was founded in 2003 with the aim of assisting poor and needy sportspeople.

Milkha Singh was the only Indian male athlete to win an individual athletics gold medal at a Commonwealth Games, until this year, Year 2014. Singh also won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. Besides representing India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, as shown in the movie, he also took part in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In the Rome Olympics, though Singh came fourth, as he eased off while running, as mentioned earlier, and shown in the movie, he broke the Indian National Record, of 45.73, and held it for almost 40 years. He was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in recognition of his sporting achievements.

The Swaying Sikh Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh and Meesha Shafi as Indian swimmer Perizaad, dancing down-under Set during the Melbourne Summer Olympics of 1956

The Swaying Sikh
Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh and Meesha Shafi as Indian swimmer Perizaad, dancing down-under
Set during the Melbourne Summer Olympics of 1956

The Film won seven Filmfare awards, earlier this year, including the well deserved awards for ‘Best Film’, ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Actor’. But it also won for ‘Best Lyrics’, the ‘R D Burman’ Award, for ‘Best Costume’ and for ‘Best Production Design’. I do not necessarily agree with these awards. Though good, there were other films, with better songs, like the beautifully versed song written by Gulzar, for the house warming party, from Ek Thi Dayan (2013). And when it comes to ‘Costumes’ and ‘Production Design’, what about Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013), which had some magnificent costumes, brilliant  art décor and superb cinematography (See my post Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela: A Pleasant Surprise from earlier this year). Even though I don’t agree with the latter lot of awards it won, I do agree it is the best film of year 2013. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag also won the National Award for ‘Best Film’.

A wonderful movie, really worth checking out.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) My Rating 10/10!!!

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense